Statement of Philosophy

A site for exploration and discussion about verse, poetics, the aesthetic, and creative writing in general.

Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.



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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Salt Water Ducks" by Cleopatra Mathis -- Verse Daily, 1/30/13

from Book of Dogs (Sarabande Books)
poem found here
 

first lines:
The tide ignores its limits, all last night
climbing over the railing, battering the door.

 

fortissimo! then not

-- reformatted 11/24/2013
 

Isn’t there a shift in time and tense between the primary verbs in line one (“ignores”) and line three (“flew”)? Just asking.

All else I want to say is: Storm! Rage! Crashing! Thunder! Chaos! ducks gotta eat.

Kind of radical drop off in tenor, there, no? Four lines of storm ideation and then “ducks have to eat”? I hope it was supposed to be funny, because I laughed.

Question: did that even need to be said? Could you not just ignore the urge to narrate and simply ideate ducks in a squall?

See my previous post on today’s Poetry Daily offering, “Rapprochement,” as to why I stop there.

"Rapprochement" by Geoffrey Nutter -- Poetry Daily 1/30/13

from Iowa Review (Winter 2012/13)
poem found here
 

first lines:
I awoke as from a dream. And I rose
near dawn, boiled and drank the blood-colored tea

 

crafting the little things

-- reformatted, and minor edits 11/24/2013  
 

Sometimes little things are enough to stop me reading what is ostensibly a finished piece but a few lines in, for the new-come absence of desire to go further. This is such a case, what with lines four and five: “and started to compose a lengthy list / of all of the day’s necessary tasks.” Flat tires of lines, they are. Why ever say “started to compose”: there are so many, more elegant and less chaff-ridden ways to say such. Then, not “a” list but “the” list: which is insisted by the fact that the list is already in existence (in that everything is “necessary”) and but needs but to be written down. As such, “compose” also fails, in that compose carries the idea of something being crafted. But you do not 'compose' a grocery list; you make one. You jot one. Then there’s the chain of blah nothing words “of all of the day’s." Was there no way to excise that, or replace it with something in some way interesting? You’ve essentially asked me there as a reader to “hold on, it’s going to be boring here, but I promise the next line will be better.”

No, absolutely not. The point of crafting poetry (intentionally reusing the word) is that I do not want to read blah boring whatever can I please get past this. Indeed, the very presence of blah boring tells me, as a sophisticated reader, not to wait for the next line, but move to the next poem. Because, usually, which is to say mostly, which is to say nearly all the time, that string of blah, boring, whatever isn’t an accident, but a character trait.

Next line: "a VI-sit to the a-LU mi num MILLs" – way too many unaccented syllables. (One can argue that the “to” is accented by context, but coming off of “visit,” with the common “t,” one naturally wants to leave it unaccented.)

Two lines later: “Street of the Hyacinth of Waters”: too much of a stretch toward the exotic to succeed. (And most of the poem is likewise: lots of describing words but it doesn't really reach what it is striving for. It comes off as a string of words, never coalescing as something greater than the words.)

Two lines later: “And as I walked out / and down a path that bordered the forest”: the “out” does not succeed in creating a scene shift when no real scene was established to begin with. This problem is exacerbated because of that earlier line, “started to compose,” which begs an ending before moving on. “Walked out” marks a terrifically clumsy shift.

And I could continue line by line but you get the point. (“It was strange to think”? Oh, what a givaway.)

Except to beg one little point: If you are going to write poetry that is little more than a paragraph or three or what cut up into lines, it rather behooves you to write it in paragraphs first, and see if they are actually worth reading.

And that the subject is so typically . . . . well, I'll leave that hanging.

(Might have got a little mean there. Didn’t mean to.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

"Q" by Michael McFee -- Poetry Daily, 1/23/13

from Was That Oasis (Carnegie Mellon)
poem found here
 

first lines:
;U’s mate, O with a new root,
the one capital letter

 

the little things do count

-- a little editing 06/17/2013
-- reformatted, and minor edit 11/24/2013

 

I don’t mind little ditties. In truth, I really enjoy a clever little ditty. There’s a true place in poetry for them. (Yeat's oeuvre is full of them.) A collection of the better would be something worth having on the shelf – for fun and profit. The difficulty with a ditty, however, is that it takes very little for it to fall apart and drop from being a clever little poem to being nothing of note.

And I have problems with this poem.

Is ‘Q’ the only capital to drop below the line? Depends on the font. (It would have to be formal print fonts for the poem to make sense: in my handwriting Q, J, F, Z, sometimes Y, and occasionally X fall below.) Scroll down a fontlist you will see ‘J’ very frequently drops below. Nit picking? I don’t think so, here, where my very first thought on reading the first stanza was, “No, ‘J’ does also.” (As well, in many fonts 'Q' does not at all drop.)

So the, can this poem get away making that definitive -- and poem anchoring -- statement about the quality of the letter Q's tail? Is it a safe generalization? Here I think it fails: there is too hard an attempt to force the truth into the poem. The key to what I mean here is the question: does it matter to the poem? If it does terribly I would say the poem is fatally flawed by insisting it is the only letter with such a quality. But I do not think that is the case, here. It seems the idea could be wholly replaced – after all, there is no rhyme or meter here, so it is not like it would be that difficult.

Another issue: not much attention to grammar: that comma after line 3 really pisses me off. [And I just erased that particular rant: the poem doesn’t merit it.]

I have other problems with the poem, all small. “Parted quickly” seems forced. “Alphabet’s monarch” likewise: why is it so? Because of the tail? I would think the primary positioning of ‘A’ rather trumps a tail wagging far down the line. (Actually, I think the whole conceit of the poem – that there is some importance in the positioning of the tail – is forced.) “Fluent tongue” is a loose ideational tie to language, but it fails for me because “fluent” is not visual, and has nothing around it to give me reason for its existence.

One of the primary rules of poetry: if there is not a reason for it to exist in the poem, then it shouldn’t. (Thank you Mr. Pound.) And calling it ornament is not a get out of jail free card; ask any competent architect.

What is my point? Too many small errors. “Q” does not come off as a neat little ditty (neat works two ways, there) – it comes off as a quick throwaway you draft during half time of a game on a napkin to see if it gets a quick laugh, then to be thrown away. Just because it’s a short little what-not, does not excuse the poet from making a tight poem. I am reminded of the line from the film Impromptu, where Chopin (Hugh Grant) is explaining to George Sand (Judy Davis) the difficulty in writing an impromptu: how to create a piece that is well structured, well crafted, but sounds like it is off the cuff. Notice the reversal: a good little ditty is a well-crafted piece that comes off sounding like a little ditty. Saying “Oh, it’s just a little ditty,” does not justify poor craftsmanship.